ABU DHABI // The Hydra Properties business tycoon Sulaiman al Fahim was yesterday appointed chairman of the board of Portsmouth Football Club after the Premier League announced he had passed their fit-and-proper-persons test. Mr al Fahim, 32, agreed to buy the club in May after striking a deal with the current owner, Alexandre Gaydamak, and began a period of legal and financial due diligence.
Shortly after the Premier League's announcement, Portsmouth said Mr al Fahim had been appointed to the board of directors and that an "agreement in principle" had been reached over the sale. The club, which finished 14th in the Premier League last season, is officially being bought by Al Fahim Asia Associates, a firm of which the property mogul is sole owner and chairman. Mr al Fahim is the first person to pass the Premier League's new fit-and-proper-persons test and joins the four-member board of directors with immediate effect, the club said.
"I very much look forward to working closely with the club's management and supporters to develop Portsmouth Football Club and deliver future success," Mr al Fahim said in a statement yesterday. "The club has a long and fine history of achievement that I intend to build on," he added. It was not known when the board will meet next. The fit-and-proper-persons test is meant to ensure a club is controlled by respectable individuals and details a series of criteria that prospective owners must meet in order for a purchase to be approved.
The criteria include issues such as potential owners never having been declared bankrupt or convicted of specific criminal offences. The system was tightened after Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai prime minister, was able to pass the test and take over Manchester City in 2007 despite a host of allegations of corruption and human rights atrocities. It is also applied to directors and/or those who own more than 30 per cent of a club.
Mr al Fahim paid a visit to the club's training ground yesterday for an informal meeting with Peter Storrie, the chief executive officer, Paul Hart, who was given a two-year contract as manager yesterday, and the football squad. He later flew out of the UK but is due to return in coming weeks. "The owners of Portsmouth Football Club are pleased to announce that an agreement in principle has been reached over the sale of the club to Al Fahim Asia Associates and, as a result, Sulaiman al Fahim, the sole owner and chairman of Al Fahim Asia Associates, will join the existing four-member board of Portsmouth Football Club as chairman with immediate effect," said a club statement.
However, club officials declined to reveal the value of the deal. Portsmouth fans welcomed the news. "It's a relief that he has passed because at the moment supporters are really in the dark about how the club is going to prepare for the coming season," said Barry Thompson, a committee member of the Portsmouth Northern Blues Supporters Club. "It has been a nervous time because we have seen the squad we had about 14 months ago shrink down and down."
The supporters' club chairman, Richard Sweetnam, echoed these sentiments and added that he wanted a more detailed breakdown of the elements of the takeover. "Obviously I am pleased that the due diligence process has been completed and the security of the club has been established," he said. "Now the club can pursue the path of preparing for the new season." The Premier League announced he had passed the test, saying: "Mr al Fahim has submitted all the documentation required to satisfy our Fit and Proper Persons Test.
"Based on the information provided the league has found no reason why Mr al Fahim would be liable to be disqualified as a director of a Premier League club. "Accordingly we have advised Portsmouth FC that his appointment may proceed. "As with all changes in club ownership the Premier League will continue to monitor any material changes in circumstance." Mr Storrie, who will continue in his role as chief executive officer, was quoted in a club statement as saying: "This appointment brings stability to the Club and is excellent news for Pompey supporters.
"I have every reason to believe that together with the new chairman we will be able to take the club forward to further achievements building on the successes of the past three years." Mr al Fahim was the initial figurehead of the Abu Dhabi United Group when they took control of Manchester City Football Club in the summer of 2008. He is no longer involved but did not drop his interest in the Premier League.
Earlier this year he was reported to have inquired about buying Chelsea from Roman Abramovich as part of a consortium believed to have bid more than £700 million (Dh4.24 billion). But he eventually settled on Portsmouth and plans to overhaul the Fratton Park club. Mr Gaydamak, who was the sole owner of the club, announced in December that he was looking for a buyer because he was unable to devote sufficient time to the club.
Portsmouth, nicknamed Pompey or The Blues, were founded in 1898 and have won the FA cup twice, most recently last year against Cardiff City. Mr al Fahim is a billionaire businessman with property and television interests who founded the Dubai-based development company Hydra Properties and hosted a reality television programme, Hydra Executives, similar in format to the hit US and UK series The Apprentice.
He told the Arabic newspaper Al Bayan last month that he would try to sign the UAE footballers Hamdan al Kamali and Ahmed Khalil if he completed his takeover of Portsmouth. He vowed that once the due diligence process was complete he would "start serious negotiations" with Al Wahda, which owns al Kamali, and Al Ahli, which owns Khalil. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org